I was invited to speak at the Wisconsin Business Travel Association’s Education Day in early January, just as the polar vortex was engulfing 26 states in wind-chill warnings or watches. Wisconsin, of course, is a state known for its cold weather; it was in the low teens when I arrived, and the wind chill made it feel well below zero.
The WBTA’s Education Day was taking place about an hour north of Milwaukee in Kohler. As the name suggests, the village of Kohler is named for the plumbing and bath manufacturer. The meeting was at The American Club, which once provided housing, meals, and recreational facilities for immigrant employees of Kohler who could not afford housing. The American Club presents a very striking first impression with its Tudor architecture, soaring roof peaks, and slate tile. The setting was beautiful — and warm.
I arrived and met with my gracious hosts: Emily Wright and Jesse Funk. We gathered for a group reception where I was able to connect with new people and reconnected with many in my professional network– a great way to end a ‘very long travel day.’
I initially wasn’t planning on staying for the whole session, but soon realized I needed to make some schedule adjustments to allow me to stay for the whole day and I am so happy that I did. I heard from many wonderful volunteers on subjects ranging from airport updates and professional growth opportunities to trends in managed travel.
As you know from many of my other postings and communications, volunteerism is something close to my heart. As GBTA’s President, I am trying to understand volunteering from many perspectives —not only how to recruit and retain volunteers, but also factors that cause volunteers to disengage. GBTA is one of many organizations that regularly involves and depends on its volunteers; to be most effective, we need to understand how best to support those individuals.
So much of what we talk about in travel management is the logistics of getting from point A to point B in a safe and cost efficient manner, when travel is ultimately about meeting new people and seeing what impact they will have on our lives and what impact we will have on theirs. I say that because I have had so many wonderful experiences when I have traveled, and Wisconsin was no exception. While I was grabbing dinner at the airport, there was a gate change. There was one young man, an off-duty military man sitting by himself reading a book in the original (agent-less) gate area. I asked if there was a gate change, but he said he didn’t know. I told him to come with me, as he said he didn’t travel much. We checked the monitors and headed to our new gate. On the way to the new gate, he told me that he was traveling to DC as a bone marrow donor. We got to the gate just as they announced the final boarding call. His assigned seat was next to me on the plane, so we were able to talk about his military experience and travels around the world on deployments. It was a moment like many others I have experienced in my travels. The encounter with Matt at the gate in Milwaukee was meant to be and this great American hero is now a bone marrow donor doing what soldiers do – giving of themselves.
This was supposed to be a quick trip to Wisconsin. I was planning on speaking and then returning to DC right after. But instead I extended my trip so I could attend the full day session. In doing so, I met wonderful people, learned a few new things, and was in the right place at the right time to help an off-duty military man catch his flight to be a bone marrow donor. I believe this is the essence of business travel: the opportunity for both planned and spontaneous meetings that have both professional and personal benefits.